First Lessons in Ragging

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The call was unfamiliar.   The tone was rude and the volume loud.   Some one was shaking me and shouting ‘Cadet Sen! GET OUT OF YOUR BED YOU Bl*** sleepy Ba***rd!’. I was in slumber-land.    The three rough blankets covering me had just become warm enough to be cosy.    My body was tired while the mind was quite relaxed.   I had had a long day and I was now in deep sleep.   The shaking got suddenly violent.   Some one pulled my blankets off.    A sharp slap of biting coldness brought me out of my slumber.    I got up and tried to get off the unfamiliar bed.   I could not find my slippers and the coir matting below my feet was cold.    I looked down to my wrist watch.   It was just past ten thirty at night.  Just ten thirty?  Does it really mean that my first day at the ISW-AFA was not over yet? Groan!  There were six or seven young men wearing trousers and pullovers  in the room spewing expletives and obscenities that I had never ever heard, and these boys were throwing all that directly at me! 

 It was the night of 30/31 January 1950.   Out of my bed standing on the floor I was very cold.   The room temperature must have been around ten degrees centigrade.  I did not know what was happening to me.   Behind me JM Nayyer was receiving a similar treatment.   GK Sen was standing a little apart from the group of boys dealing with me.   Madanjit was sitting on his own bed with a bemused smile on his face.  

 One of the boys approached me and stood face to face.   ‘Stand to Attention’ he barked.   I did my best to brace up.   The cold was getting to me.   I started shivering gently.   The boy looked at me with deep satisfaction and nodded gently.  Feeling cold?  He asked in a mild voice.  I nodded in reply.  All his gentleness disappeared in a whiff.   ‘DOUBLE MARK TIME’, he screamed at me.   I did not understand what I was expected to do.   I just stood still and continued to shiver.   Another lad stepped forward.  ‘Don’t you know how to double mark time?’   I shook my head in bewilderment.   ‘OK, I will show you how to do it.’  Other boys moved out a bit and gave this boy a bit of room.   He then proceeded to give me a demonstration of his version of ‘double mark time’.    It was a vigorous demo.  He stood erect and danced on his feet, thighs rising perfectly to a horizontal position.   After three or four seconds he stopped.    Now do it as I did, I was ordered.    I tried to copy him to the best of my ability but the effort was not up to his satisfaction.    ‘Raise those legs higher I Say!’ came the shout and I tried to comply with the order.   It was not easy.   I was young and nimble but I was far from athletic.   The pyjama bottom I was wearing was also a bit narrow and it constrained my leg movements.   

 The ragger-in-chief (RiC), who had yielded space to the PT demonstrator, now stepped forward again and shouted ‘Halt’.    I stopped a bit uncertainly.    Obviously a change in tactics was being introduced and I would be the obvious target.   I did not like the situation.   ‘The pyjamas are too tight’.  My tormentor passed a considered judgement. Then raising the pitch of his voice several octaves he screamed ‘Take Them OFF’.   My ears turned crimson at the intended insult.   I was not wearing any underclothes below the pyjamas.  Taking the pyjamas off would mean nudity.   The flash of shame gave way to a wave of anger but in the face of the overwhelming odds present, my anger quickly morphed into defiance.  If this bunch of uncouth boys wanted to see me in the all together, then that was their problem.   I dropped my pyjama and stepped out.      The tormentor seemed to approve of my action.   ‘Good’, he said. ‘Now Double Mark Time’.    I resumed the exercise with vigour.    It was very cold and double marking time seemed a reasonable way to keep warm.    The group  of tormentors were watching me for a chance to start a fresh wave of ragging, but my nonchalant response had flummoxed them.     At last one of them decided to try out a new line.    He moved forward to the front of the group and faced me.   For a few moments he stood still and observed me.  Then at the top of his voice he screamed ‘Stop those balls from dancing! Hold them still!’    If his intension was to needle me into a new confrontation, he succeeded brilliantly.     There was a rush of blood into my head and I wanted to hit him.    At the same time it was clear to me that hitting him physically would land me in trouble.    Fortunately for me, it was possible for me to use words and sarcasm as a weapon.   ‘Sir!, I screamed back matching his volume.  Human scrotum does not contain muscles to control the dynamics of the testicles, SIR!’      My rejoinder went over the heads of half the boys in the room and they just looked at each other.   The other half, including the Ragger-in-Chief and GK Sen doubled up in laughter.   The RiC asked me to stop, and put on my under clothes.   While I went to my cupboard to take out a fresh set of underclothing, there was a small commotion outside.    Then some more boys came into the room and asked all the ‘First term cadets’ to fall in outside the billets.   I was now ordered to put on a pair of shorts, a pullover and my PT shoes and socks in addition to my under clothing.   Then we, the new cadets, were formed into a formation of three ranks and were taken off for a road walk and run.   The time had just gone on to about eleven o’clock. 

 Out of the ninety cadets of the third course, about forty were gathered for the night run mainly from the Able and Baker Squadrons.   About fifteen senior cadets came along.   They were all dressed in full length trousers and ammunition boots.    We started a proper road run along the road dividing Able/Baker squadrons and then wheeled on to the road going to the class rooms.     There was a huge plot of land between the cadet’s billets and the class room blocks which was later developed as the main PT Ground.   On that night however, this plot was undeveloped, uneven ground full of babool bushes and other shrubbery.  Our tormentors wheeled our flight into that plot and marched us through all that growth.   With their ammo boots and full trousers on, they negotiated the ground with ease while we, with our shorts and PT shoes, were lacerated in our legs mercilessly.   On and on the torture went.     Any one who fell back were goaded mercilessly.     At long last, when at least I was on the last dregs of my energy, we were brought back on to the road.    We reached back to the billets, were ordered back to beds and the senior guys melted away into the darkness.   As we got back into the cabin, Madanjit hissed – ‘take your shoes off and get into bed, QUICKLY!’   We did as we were told.   A few minutes later, the duty officer went by and found every thing peaceful and quiet. 

 I did not face any physically hard or degrading ragging after this first day.   All the same,   the senior cadets rode us hard and changed our general behaviour slowly but surely to such an extent that for the rest of our lives complete strangers in most unlikely places had no difficulty in identifying us as ‘a fouji type’.     For the first four weeks or so, before we passed our ‘Drill Square’ test, every senior cadet had the option of putting us up to an appointment cadet for disciplinary action for ‘behavioural infringements’.   The appointment cadets had powers of punishment of two kinds: Pack Drill and Putty Parade.    The first one was simple.         The victim gets dressed in overalls, boots, anklets, and a back pack, mercifully loaded only to 40 pounds.   Then a senior cadet drills him for half an hour.   The other one was a little more interesting.     The supervising cadet nominates a dress, the cadet under punishment runs to his cabin, changes and reports back to be inspected for the accuracy of dressing. This is repeated thrice.   At the end of the effort, the supervisor inspects the cabin to ensure that it has not been messed up.    The infringements of behaviour that could attract such punishments were of varied nature.   Marching with a slouch, not greeting a senior adequately, shoes not shining enough, brass buckles and badges not shining enough, crossing a flowerbed, beret not worn properly on the head, it could be anything and everything. In my first term I set some sort of record, having collected 167 putty parades during the five months. 

 If there is any young soul amongst my readers who is salivating with new ideas of ragging his juniors in school or college, let me sound a bit of a warning.    Days have changed.   After all, 60 years is a long time.   Now a days, ragging is not really considered politically correct in polite society.      Be that as it may,   there are other things to consider.    There is a popular view that people fond of ragging others are actually a bit of a coward themselves.   Now chew on that!   Also, ragging seems to be an addictive pass time and can lead one to excesses that one might regret later.    There is some substance to this view too.   I think I can even quote an instance of such an occurrence!   

 One of the guys ragging us was a bubbly diminutive chap who was not very strong physically.    He was however a very keen ‘ragger’.   He enjoyed ragging us when we came in.    He also enjoyed ragging the next course (the 4th JSW guys) when they came in into the newly renamed JSW in July 1950.    Then in December 1950, the first course boys were due to pass out from the JSW and go on to the respective training establishments of the three services.    Some boys of the 2nd course decided that a new tradition must be started as a ‘grudge night’ where the out going cadets could be bullied and thrashed by the juniors.    Our good friend was a part of the motivators of the scheme.   On the final night, a mini war erupted. Main weapon used was a knotted towel wetted with water which could be used as a swinging mace.   The first course lads had a tough time.    The matters became so bad that official intervention became necessary and the grudge night was declared illegal.     Our friend had enjoyed himself on that night too.    However, he had forgotten that six months later he was to pass out from JSW himself and once again become a junior cadet to the same first course boys at the Military Wing Prem Nagar.    An urban legend has it that the first course boys had not forgotten.      A reception party was waiting for him when he arrived at Prem Nagar.    He was then ceremonially made to dress if full FSMO (Field Service Marching Order) minus the dungarees and was made to crawl around the Chatwood Hall rifle in hand, with a lighted candle stuck into his unmentionable, singing ‘Lead Kindly Light’.   I am told that he was chastened for life.

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3 responses »

    • Thank you Isobel. If your first visit to the blog was accidental, let me welcome you effusively and invite you to wade through the rest of the mass of my outpourings.

  1. Your tales are quite interesting. Having been a cadet myself in two military academies, i have gone through similar experience many a time. Putty parades and other activities (one may call them ragging) make a soldier out of a sissy.

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